Read The Boat House Online

Authors: Pamela Oldfield

The Boat House

Table of Contents


Recent Titles by Pamela Oldfield from Severn House

Title Page


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen


Recent Titles by Pamela Oldfield from Severn House

The Heron Saga


























Pamela Oldfield

This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.


First world edition published 2010

in Great Britain and 2010 in the USA by


9–15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.

Copyright © 2010 by Pamela Oldfield.

All rights reserved.

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

Oldfield, Pamela.

The Boat House.

1. Governesses–England–Henley-on-Thames–Fiction.

2. Family secrets–Fiction. 3. Detective and mystery stories.

I. Title


ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-240-5 (ePub)

ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-6914-2 (cased)

ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-261-1 (trade paper)

Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.

This ebook produced by

Palimpsest Book Production Limited,

Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.


Wednesday, May 15th, 1912

t’s the man,’ said Emmie. ‘The man in the garden.’

Marianne frowned at the girl’s picture, carefully drawn in pencil and coloured in with crayons. ‘Which man in the garden? Do you mean Mr Blunt who does the gardening?’

‘No! The man last night. The ghost.’

Her twin, Edie, nodded and held up her own picture. ‘We saw him in the garden. I didn’t want to look at him so I shut my eyes.’

Marianne, their governess, stared from one picture to the other. They were eerily similar but that, she knew, was because Edie copied her sister whenever possible. Marianne had learned from the children’s grandmother that eight-year-old Emmeline had been born six minutes before Edith and had taken the lead ever since.

She studied the pictures, which showed a tall thin man walking past a low building. There were tufts of grass, trees, four rose bushes complete with thorns and a large circle in the sky which she took to be the sun.

‘What is this?’ she asked, pointing to the building. ‘Is this the house where we live?’ It hardly seemed likely as the Matlowes lived in some splendour in The Poplars – a six-bedroomed, three-storey house near Henley, on the Buckinghamshire bank of the Thames.

‘No. It’s the boat house,’ said Emmie patiently, in a tone which suggested that it was surely obvious. ‘We don’t have a boat any more, though, because Grandmother doesn’t like them.’

Edie added, ‘And that’s the moon.’

‘I thought it was the sun.’

Two small heads shook blonde curls and Emmie explained. ‘It was night-time.’

‘But you are both asleep when the moon comes up.’

‘Last night I woke up with a tummy ache,’ said Emmie, ‘and then we looked out of the window and saw him. I think it was the ghost.’

Edie shuddered. ‘Don’t say that! It wasn’t the ghost. I don’t like ghosts. Cook said there aren’t any ghosts.’

‘Grandmama says there are, so there!’

Marianne held up both hands. ‘Now wait a moment, girls. If your grandmother says there are ghosts . . . I expect she was joking.’

She met two withering stares. Emmie said, ‘There’s a ghost in the boat house and that’s why we mustn’t go down there – ever! Nobody must go down there. Because it’s haunted.’

Edie nodded, her expression solemn. ‘And that’s why we don’t want to play in the garden – because he might see us and come out of the boat house.’

As a newly employed governess, Marianne felt unable to argue the point any longer but she made up her mind to speak with her employer at the first opportunity. Better still, she thought on reflection, she would ask the kitchen staff if they knew anything about a ghost. In her short six weeks in the household she had quickly learned that very little that happened was missed by the staff. Maybe Mrs Matlowe had invented the story of the ghost to prevent the children from venturing too close to the end of the garden which ended where the Thames flowed past, deep and fast, past Henley on its way to the sea.

The Poplars was an elegant house with a large garden. At the end of it there was an old structure which Marianne had assumed was a summer house, but since her time with the children was mostly taken in the schoolroom, she had had no chance to explore further.

Now she glanced at the clock and saw that only ten minutes remained before they would stop for the midday meal. Changing the subject, she said, ‘We have just time for some spelling.’ Ignoring the groans, she went on. ‘Please put your pictures away – no, you do not need your notebooks. You will spell the words aloud . . .’

Could there have been an intruder in the garden, she wondered, still faintly disturbed by the children’s insistence that they had seen a man in the moonlit garden. The so-called ‘nursery’ where the girls slept looked out on to the lower part of the grounds where in summer, apparently, a makeshift tennis court had once been laid out.

‘But that was when the young Mrs Matlowe was visiting,’ Cook had told her. ‘Neil’s wife. She was very athletic, so we’re told, although we never actually met her. The gardener says that the young Mrs Matlowe – that is, the twin’s mother – thought croquet much too slow and preferred rushing about. They used to have friends round for tennis but not, of course, since . . . she left.’

The information had abruptly dried up at that moment, Marianne recalled with a slight frown. Odd, she thought. She was intrigued by the entire household, which she felt had a mournful air about it, but she had so far been told very little and had not been encouraged to ask any questions. The twins’ widowed grandmother, Georgina Matlowe, appeared to have sole custody of the girls and had never referred to their parents in Marianne’s hearing.

Now, pushing her thoughts aside, she started her impromptu spelling bee. ‘All the words will be animals. Emmie, I want you to spell “horse” . . .’

Outside the nursery-cum-schoolroom, Georgina Matlowe stood with her ear close to the door. She was dressed all in black, which improved her somewhat dumpy figure – a choice which had been influenced by the recently deceased Queen Victoria. Her shoes were sensibly laced and she wore her hair severely drawn back into a bun at the nape of her neck. Her features had settled into grim lines, which hid the fact that she had once been quite handsome.

Now she was frowning. The governess’s probationary period was over and Georgina had decided to extend her stay. Marianne Lefevre, twenty-four years old, seemed eminently suitable. She had a pleasant face and a good complexion but was not exactly a beauty, and Georgina understood that there was no admirer on the horizon – her occasional letters came from a friend by the name of Alice. The brother in India never bothered to write. Georgina had learned at the interview that Marianne had never been married and had recently nursed both parents through their last illnesses.

The governess, patient but firm with the twins, was half French and Georgina had recently decided that Marianne should teach the girls a little French. That would impress her own small circle of friends, Georgina reflected with satisfaction. Living near Henley meant that social standing was important and the chance to ‘score points’ must never be missed. That frightful woman Marjory Broughton rarely missed the chance to mention her son who was at Eton, or a nephew who had just been accepted at Oxford,
had either of these young paragons been taught French at the age of eight? Georgina did not think so!

Nodding to herself, she pressed her ear closer to the door.

‘Now it’s your turn, Edie,’ she heard the governess say. ‘Your word is “gorilla”.’

There was a pause, then Emmie prompted her sister. ‘G, o . . .’

Marianne said quickly, ‘Don’t help her, Emmie. Edie can do it without help.’

‘G, o, r, i, l, a.’ There was a note of triumph in Edie’s voice and her grandmother frowned.

‘Nearly right,’ Marianne told her. ‘Gorilla has two “l”s in it but it was a good try.’

Georgina frowned. Not good enough, she thought, but she acknowledged that Edie would never be as clever as her twin. Emmeline took after Neil, Georgina’s son. After her firstborn arrived, she had considered childbirth entirely too hazardous and Neil grew up as an only child. But he was clever and had once had a great future ahead of him – a future that had been snatched away from him. Her expression hardened abruptly as a host of unwelcome memories flooded in. Forcing them aside she concentrated on Neil’s young twins. Emmeline, bright and forthcoming, took after him. Poor little Edie, so like her twin physically, had obviously taken after her ghastly mother, Leonora, in the intelligence department. ‘All froth and no substance’ was the damning phrase Georgina had used to sum up her daughter-in-law.

Georgina shook her head and moved on along the passage. If only Neil had never met the woman – how different all their lives would have been. He could have married anyone, she reflected bitterly. The women were available and willing, but in a sudden rush of blood to the brain Neil had fallen for an American adventuress. A terrible mistake. Leonora was beautiful, of course, and no doubt exciting, in a frivolous way, but totally wrong for an Englishman of Neil’s calibre. Not that he would ever have admitted it, not even after she had apparently abandoned husband and family.

Georgina sighed. Her son was convinced that Leonora had returned to her family in Virginia in America and had wanted to rush after her but Georgina, afraid to lose her son, had tried to persuade him to stay with the twins . . . But enough of those dreadful memories. She must not torment herself.

Georgina moved on along the passage and ended up in her bedroom. Sinking into a chair, she put a hand to her aching head. Nothing unusual there. She suffered from frequent headaches and the doctors could not help. Not that she expected them to. They were unaware of the particular strains and stresses of her life and,
they been aware, they would still have been helpless to improve her condition. The past was unalterable and Georgina knew she had no choice but to live through her remaining years without relief.

Next morning dawned cloudy and cool but Marianne came to a sudden decision – she would take the children down into the garden, warmly dressed, and, if challenged by her employer, would pretend innocence of the ‘ban’ and insist that they were studying nature. She would, hopefully, put an end to the nonsense about ghosts. She hustled the children into suitable clothes and set off downstairs and through the kitchen.

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